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Circus collection exhibit now open

circus history exhibit

The Clyde Beatty circus history exhibit in Special Collections, Milner Library.

A tiny light bulb, a gold lion head ring (and a forgery of the same ring!) and a circus diorama are just a few of the interesting artifacts on display in the new exhibit in Milner Library’s Special Collections.

Clyde Beatty, a famed 20th century lion and tiger trainer, was a circus performer, movie, and radio star from the 1930s to 1960s. He became famous for daring acts with lions and tigers, and the majority of the artifacts are related to his work with big cats. The lion head ring, of which two versions are seen in the exhibit, was a souvenir from a cereal box. Other items in the case include a photo of Beatty with the lion Nero, taken in 1931. Beatty spent 10 weeks in a hospital in 1932 after the same lion attacked him—and then went on to film The Big Cage with the same lion.

Related Article: Clyde Beatty Circus Collection acquired Milner Library announces the donation of the Clyde Beatty Collection, a gift of Dave and Mary Jane Price.

Also on display are posters, including one for The Big Cage, highlighting some of Beatty’s creative work in film and the circus. The five posters chosen show the breadth of Beatty’s appeal. It is worth noting that the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey poster is a rare one because Beatty was only on the Ringling-Barnum show for the Madison Square Garden dates. Beatty typically contracted with the Hagenbeck Wallace Show from 1925-1934, but would work for Ringling under special circumstances.

Special Collections is located on Floor 6 of Milner Library and houses unique, rare and old materials that the library collects. In addition to the Clyde Beatty collection, it has a wide variety of other collections related to the circus and allied arts.

Interested in seeing images from Special Collections’ circus collection? A digital collection of color photographs called A Passion for Circus is available online. The Clyde Beatty collection was a generous gift from David and Mary Jane Price.